Friday, July 31, 2009


Today, we built our first two trusses. There are a few issues that need to be sorted out, but I'll post more about them when I know more details.

How wonderful!

Getting Ready for Building : A quick update

We finished all our drawings and small models in time for our 10am meeting with the clients. We presented, they asked some questions, we answered them and they approved the design, giving us free reign for the rest of the project.

After approval, we had to finalize the designs. The best way to test sturdiness is to build a model to scale.

We ripped tiny lumber pieces (1/6" by 1/3" is a 2 by 4.)

We built trusses.

We put the trusses together.

We added benches and a table. We are currently adding decking and siding (which is 1/12" by 1/3". Awesome tiny woodworking.) (This photo was taken about a minute ago.)

For the record, Berea's Ecological Architecture course should use the woodshop. Models turn out much better with the appropriate tools.

We came up with a cutlist.

Yesterday, we scaled up our final design and built a jig.

Now it's waiting on us. And we're waiting on a lumber delivery that is about an hour and a half late.

I'm under the impression that we're running a little behind, but nobody seems to panicked yet. I'm excited to start building. We're assembling as much as we can at the school and then moving out to the site for assembly. We had to keep construction and transportation in mind as we were designing. We don't want to be on site too much because of the possibility of rain.

Yesterday was the first day that we didn't have class after dinner. A lot of folks went out to celebrate Steve's birthday. I slept, happily. Every other day has been completely full of drawings and models, from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed. It was a nice break.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Beginning of Community D/B

Sunday night, I started my Community Design Build class with Steve Badanes, Jim Adamson and Bill Bialosky. Coming into the class, nobody (including instructors) was sure about what the project was. The Community D/B class is well known and very popular, designing structures that addressed needs of the community. (The first four pictures of this post were built during previous Community D/B classes.)

We soon found out that we were given a small plot of land at a new affordable housing complex to build some sort of community spot. The area is problematic because there are many manhole covers, drains and a pumpstation to the septic tanks scattered around that we can't build over. There is also a strange subtle slope that could be an issue. There is a retention pond to the south that is an eyesore, but there is also a cute stream that can be spotted from the right angle.

These folks are generally standing in the area that we're going to build our structure:

The only program that the clients (landlords) provided for the place was a spot for parents to sit and watch their children playing.

The class (13 people) came back and broke into three groups. We brainstormed and sketched, then came back for a group meeting where we discussed ideas. Over the next two days, this process happened about 6 times. We had started by designing complex structures with multiple platforms and lots of program, but after a second visit to the site this morning, we realized how small the space we had to work with was. Each time we broke into groups, it almost seemed like a step backwards - we were breaking into different groups each time, so we had to start from scratch. However, around 3:00 this afternoon, we discovered that all of our groups were designing the same thing. From all our group discussions and mixing around, the ideas had been evenly distributed and somewhat settled. The best had come out, it seemed. These instructors seem to know what they're doing.

So that's where we are. Right now, some folks are finishing up a site model so that we can build our idea to scale.

(Actually, as I was typing this entry, the site model was finished.)

We present to the clients tomorrow at 10am. Every moment awake is expected to be spent on this project, it seems, so I am already fairly exhausted. However, the project is exciting and once we get a design approved tomorrow, we'll get to start building.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Drains and Frames

I have installed another draining system on the trails. This was a different situation (no initial puddle/mosquito pit - just soggy trail.)

I dug a trench in the soggiest part of the trail. The water immediately began collecting in it, so I dug a slope so the water could run off the hillside. I then filled the trench with gravel (which was not an easy job, seeing as how the trench was in the woods in an area inaccessable with a wheelbarrow.) I covered the gravel with larger, flat rocks to (hopefully) prevent/slow buildup of leaves in the gravel.

I also went back and covered all the PVC pipe at the older drain site.

We had a few rainy afternoons this week, so I spent a fair amount of time completing smaller jobs indoors. One that I am specifically very proud of is organizing the paint area.

I didn't take a before picture, but I assure you that it was bad. I didn't even know we had drawers in the paint area (so I painted on labels.)

Dave, Ashley, Anna and I have been working all week on framing some windows for the Home Design/Build class. Because the structure is being built with rough-cut lumber, the pre-made frames that came with the windows weren't the right size. We had to adjust them. So we milled all the wood and built the frames for five windows (several different sizes.)

Then, the Home Design/Build class installed them.

The Home Design/Build class is over now; there was a nice celebration last night for the group. I still find it incredibly odd to have class switch-overs.

Yesterday was my last day of intern duties. My next two weeks should be a completely insane rush of Community Design/Build. I'm pretty excited about it. After that, there's an intern reuinion that I intend on staying for and then I'm heading home. I'm amazed at how fast time is going by here. It doesn't seem so long ago that the core class was here, and they were my first introduction to the school. Strange.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Invisible Structures

July 9-12, I took a course called Invisible Structures. It wasn't quite what I expected. The idea behind the course what that we would focus on a what a community needed to be sustainable other than highly efficient buildings. These need can be broken into spiritual, social, environmental and economic categories. I was a little frustrated during this course because of how much we designed to expand the social capacity. We focused more on intentional living facilities, or even non-intentional apartment buildings, than on towns or regions. I suppose this makes sense for a three day course, but I have to say, for my interests, this class was pretty unsatisfying. While there was definitely some great conversation and there were some interesting ideas and techniques that would improve an immediate community, it was just too small for my liking. Small scale and not focused on cutting carbon emissions enough. I am a student of Richard Olson, obviously. I have to remember (and I gave this note to my class) that my instructor and several of my classmates were from Canada in provinces that run primarily on hydroelectric power. They don't have to worry quite as much about cutting emissions.

Here are my notes from the class. Remember, you can click to make them bigger.

One thing that I starred to blog about was "the mythology of place." It's the attitude, or the declared vision. It's what the place is known for. For example, Berea's mythology (which doesn't imply that it isn't true) is of equality and progressiveness. Because of the history of the school and how they market themselves, this is what they are known for. It is possible that Berea is recognized as a sustainable school based greatly on this mythology of progressiveness. While Berea certainly is making some big efforts towards a more sustainable campus, they are nowhere near as perfect as a lot of people seem to think they are. The mythology, however, influences opinions and views of the school. A place will eventually gain a mythology - a mood or reputation - so it's a good thing to think of as a place is being developed. However, once a mythology is developed, it's hard to change, which is why coal mining communities are often so reluctant to try using a renewable source of energy - they have a mythology of pride in their work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Drain and Home D/B

Days have been very busy around here.

I have been adopted by the Home Design/Build class as the assistant while the class is doing construction. They spend their mornings in the studio working on designs and receiving lecture, then the afternoon in the quansit hut building a small house that will later be taken to a client. There are two instructors, but many students with different skill levels, so they ask that I supervise and make sure nobody chops off any fingers. So far, I have done an excellent job.

The Home D/B project at the beginning of today (yesterday, there was no frame at all.)

The project at the end of the day. They were building their first wall in place. Today made me thankful for the weeks spent putting together a traditional stick-frame modeled house in my Ecological Design class freshman year. I knew what a cripple was.

There are a lot of people around campus this week. NBI, Home Design/Build and a masonry fireplace course. It's always a little strange to have a massive class shift. I generally get to know the majority of the people involved in week-long classes. (I do not always get to know weekenders - it's too short of a time period to try to remember names.)

I have been checking things off my list, although the process is going slowly since my afternoon has been taken away. My big project for today involved a puddle of mosquito-breeding stagnant water.

The stagnant water is, in this picture, below the trail. In actuality, it's uphill from the trail, causing the walkway to be mushy at times.

I dug a trench through the trail leading downhill (where there is plenty of drainage area.) When the mosquito-pit was mostly drained, I stuck a PVC pipe into it.

To keep critters from dwelling in my PVC pipe, I drilled some holes in the top. Water flows easily, but frogs do not. (During this process, I did relocate a frog to a new marshy area on campus. I haven't chased a frog in years.)

There are still some aesthetic issues that need to be taken care of (like the exposed PVC pipe) that I didn't get a chance to finish today. My goal, which I achieved by working through most of lunch, was to install the tube and make the path walkable again. I will poke around more tomorrow. (When I went back up to the site after helping the Home D/B class, I noticed that the puddle was still draining- coming out of the pipe, just as planned.)

I'm pretty happy with my progress this summer. I have learned quite a bit of technical information and skills, but I have also been learning a lot about working and living with others. I'm able to identify a need and take the initiative to solve the problem. I am someone who students go to when they need an answer. I am far more comfortable here than when I first arrived.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Short, Concise Version of My Day.

Today, I made a small dent in my list of things to-do. I painted the holding portion of the composting toilet a dark brown (I couldn't find any black paint.) I climbed a tree to remove an old platform and line that was tied. I measured angles and sizes for a repair on a tent platform (but couldn't actually cut any wood because there was a class in the shop.) I cleared a new tent area, then moved my tent to it because there are plans to cut several trees around my campsite. I helped clean and set up studios for classes starting this weekend. It was a busy, wonderful, sun-shiny day.

This evening, I started my Invisible Structures course. So far, we have been talking about the definitions and markers of sustainable communities. More about that to come.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Refreshed After Vacation

I took a week-long vacation to visit Boston for a cousin's wedding, family and friend visiting and general relaxing and escaping from the day-to-day. The time off was appreciated and wonderful, but I was very excited to get back to Yestermorrow.

And now I'm back. I've been back for a couple of very busy days.

There are two new interns - Anna and Ashley (male.) Tim (1) and Kendall are no longer interns. Kendall is gone and Tim is playing the role of resident builder. The new interns are nice - haven't gotten to know either extremely well, but am comfortable. The chickens grew quite a bit while I was gone. I almost couldn't tell which one was Betty Davis.

There is a push to get a building site (on campus) ready for a fabric-cement cabin. I don't know much detail about the actual structure - it will be built by several classes, I believe - but I have been helping a bit with getting the site prepared. Yestermorrow now has a giant brush pile that will be the source of an epic bonfire. We're also moving a building that a class constructed to it's site, which involves some tree-cutting. Perhaps I will write more about that this weekend.

I have been working closely with Dave, overseer of interns and grounds committee. This morning, we walked around campus identifying tasks that needed to be done. I am now in charge of making sure they get done, directing work-traders when available. The list is long and random. Today, I worked on getting some of those smaller tasks done.

I look like an unhappy tree hugger in this picture. I am marking potential camp-sites. I have identified several tent-sites and one excellent platform site. I am hoping to head up the building of the platform.

The tree house needed massive cleaning. The pine needles were getting clogged in the cracks of the walkway, which can lead to rotting. While clearing them out with a pocketknife was a slow process, it was fairly easy and relaxing. I worked clearing the pine needles for a while, but then turned the assignment over to a work-trader so I could work on projects that required a little more skill or knowledge of the campus.

I thought I had gotten a before picture, but apparently, I did not. This ladder had a broken rung that needed replaced. Upon further inspection, I saw that the rung above the broken one had some rot issues happening. (These rungs are old - the tree is obviously growing around the rungs.) I spent the later part of my day repairing the two rungs using hardwood that had been cleared out of the concrete structure's site. The poplar rung (white) and the rung below it were my new additions. I'm actually extremely proud of myself for being able to do this without any guidance (other than what kind of wood to use.)

Anna, Ashley and I all went to visit the NBI project today. Last time I saw it, timbers had just been raised:

Today, it looks like this:

They started strawbaling today. It was a very exciting time.

In the picture above, Mike and Bryce re-tie bales. I apparently don't know the name of this mechanism, but it's very tight and precise. When I straw-baled for the studio that I worked on last summer, we used twine, tightening it by twisting it around a stick, then shoving the peg into the bale. Different approaches to the same problem.

The class notched out a corner of that bale and set it upright against a window frame. The notched corner fit the post.

Normally, bales are not placed vertically, but for lining the windows, it is appropriate.

The last two evenings for me have been lecture evenings. Yesterday was one of the Summer Lecture Series, which are free every Wednesday. Deva, the NBI instructor, spoke to us about natural building compared to green building. The room was packed.

Tonight, I sat in on the NBI's lecture on moisture content and heat flow in an earthen (primarily strawbale) structure. Took lots of notes (click to expand):

I am completely exhausted, but feel great. I've been running all day (I had breakfast duty this morning) but am very proud of what I'm doing. I've said it before, but I love being independent with projects - I love having the know-how to take on a project by myself. I feel confident with this list of things to do.

I start my Invisible Structures course tomorrow.